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I received the following from a colleague:
"I'm working with a client who has severe multiple chemical sensitivities. We are searching for a ceiling insulation with an R Value of 5.5+ without added flame-retardants and biocides, to fit into a tight ceiling space of 9" or less. I've researched products through GreenSpec, Pharos Lens, and Greenguard and have yet to find one without these chemicals. We've tentatively narrowed the field down to BioBased 1701 (highest rating on Pharos) and BASF WallTite Eco, but unfortunately both contain these chemicals."
This comes from a VERY experienced and knowledgeable green designer. She sent it not only to me but to others hoping to find a ceiling insulation that meets her client's needs. I didn't have any suggestions for her and neither did anyone else.
A representative from Greenguard confirmed that PBD, the chemical often used for fire retardants can be of concern to some consumers. The chemical is not particularly volatile, however, and it is probably more "dangerous" (note quotes) if ingested. Its most volatile state is when it is heated in extreme conditions like in a fire or if around a really active commercial grade electrical box. Currently, the testing required to find these emissions from this chemical are so expensive, there is not testing program out there that requires it, including Greenguard.
The chemical emissions from insulation that can cause health problems, especially for the chemically sensitive, are tested and must meet the Greenguard standards to receive its certification. The products referenced above, WallTite and BioBased 1701 are both Greenguard Children & Schools Certified, the most stringent certification for chemical emissions.
Also of interest is an in-depth article in the current issue of Environmental Building News, "Avoiding the Global Warming Impact of Insulation." "The more insulation the better" isn't always the best environmental choice when the embodied energy of the insulation and, with some foam insulation materials, the potential leakage of blowing agents that are highly potent greenhouse gases are factored in. Author Alex Wilson explores the global warming potential of several types of insulation as well as the issue of flame-retardants.